Obit of Ludmilla Nikitina Shapiro, Henry Shapiro's Wife
By MARGALIT FOX
The New York Times
Ludmilla Nikitina Shapiro, a Russian-born journalist and photographer who with her husband amassed a collection of Soviet-era political porcelain considered the most comprehensive in North America, died on May 8, 2005, in Madison, Wis., where she lived. She was 91.
Mrs. Shapiro's death was announced by her granddaughter, Alexandra Corten.
Over six decades, Mrs. Shapiro and her husband, Henry, built their collection through donations, by scouring consignment shops and by occasional gentle larceny. (Mrs. Shapiro once lifted a cigarette holder from the Kremlin.) The collection was acquired in 1989 by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.
Mr. Shapiro, a longtime Moscow correspondent for United Press International, died in 1991.
Comprising more than 250 objects made between the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the advent of glasnost in the 1980s, the Shapiro collection includes dinnerware, statuettes and other ceramics emblazoned with words and images intended to convey Soviet glories.
Much of the collection is magnificent kitsch. An enameled porcelain figurine from the 1960's depicts two little cosmonauts standing proudly before their spacecraft. A 1937 dinner plate, depicting a beefy young woman in a bathing suit at its center and other athletes around the rim, extols the virtues of physical fitness.
Mrs. Shapiro, who with her husband endured World War II and the terrors of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, insisted that neither ideology nor aesthetics motivated the collection.
"We didn't collect these porcelains as art," she told The New York Times in 1992. "We felt they illustrated Soviet history."
Ludmilla Nikitina was born in Moscow on June 11, 1913, to a prominent family of artists and intellectuals. She earned a degree from the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages and another, in artistic translation, from the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow.
In 1933, she married Mr. Shapiro, a Romanian-born American journalist. She worked alongside him as a journalist and translator, contributing articles and photographs to American and British publications. (She photographed Nikita Khrushchev, Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, among others.)
As the Moscow representative of the American impresario Sol Hurok, Mrs. Shapiro also helped persuade the Soviet government to let the Bolshoi Ballet perform in the United States, her granddaughter said.
With her husband, Mrs. Shapiro came to the United States in 1954. The couple later returned to the Soviet Union for nearly two decades, settling permanently in the United States in 1973.
Besides her granddaughter, of Madison, Mrs. Shapiro is survived by a daughter, Irina Shapiro Corten of Minneapolis, and one great-grandchild.
The Shapiros started their collection in 1933, purely by chance.
"Henry and I were eating lunch at a skating rink, and the coffee spoons were chained to the water heaters on the table so they could not be stolen," Mrs. Shapiro said in 1992. "The plates had inscriptions on them: 'Stolen From the Moscow State Eating Enterprise.'
"I said, 'Well, then let's do what they invite us to do.' So we stole it."